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Religious Toleration in the Middle Ages and Early Modern Age

An Anthology of Literary, Theological, and Philosophical Texts

Albrecht Classen

More than ever before do we need the critical engagement with religious tolerance. Historical perspectives allow us to gain access to the discourse on this universal, often very contested topic. Already the Middle Ages and the early modern age witnessed the emergence of significant voices addressing toleration, if not even tolerance. This anthology opens many new perspectives toward this centrally important topic, adding a cultural-historical, religious, literary, and philosophical dimension mostly unknown today.

„Albrecht Classen reminds us in this volume that, "we all know just too well that the survival of the human species and its future development depends existentially on its ability and willingness to subscribe to the fundamental ideals of at least toleration, if not tolerance." As with others of Classen's works on the full range of medieval and early modern culture, this book could not be more timely or more urgently needed, especially for its positive approach to a highly volatile topic."

Fidel Fajardo-Acosta, Creighton University, Omaha, NE

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Rudolf von Ems’s Der guote Gêrhart: Experimentation with Tolerance in an Early Thirteenth-Century Middle High German Romance


Rudolf von Ems (ca. 1200–ca. 1254) belongs to one of those thirteenth-century poets who certainly deserve our full attention because of their extensive and varied works, but who have oddly remained in the shadow cast by the poets who flourished around 1200 (Hartmann von Aue, Gottfried von Straßburg, Wolfram von Eschenbach). He is especially known for his early courtly romance Der guote Gêrhart (ca 1215), the religious narrative Barlaam und Josaphat (ca. 1225–1230), his Alexanderroman (ca. 1240), his courtly romance Willhelm von Orlens (ca. 1245), and his world chronicle, Weltchronik (ca. 1254).

In the highly popular Barlaam we are confronted with the account of a young Indian prince who, once he has witnessed sickness, old age, and blindness, converts to Christianity, ultimately turns away from his own aristocratic lifestyle, and becomes a monk, very much in the vein of the ancient accounts of Gautama Buddha, from which Rudolf ultimately gained his inspiration, although he does not reveal that source or any intermediary.25 In his Alexander, Rudolf retold, on the basis of the ancient Historia de preliis and the chronicle by Curtius Rufus, the ancient story of Alexander the Great, whereas the Willhelm represents a traditional courtly love romance involving the protagonist who originates from Brabant and the English princess Amelie. The Weltchronik is what the title says, a world chronicle, which enjoyed enormous popularity (more than eighty manuscripts) and deeply influenced all subsequent accounts in the German language.26

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